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CWU Alum Honored by National Family Advocacy Group


From sister to parent for her 11-year-old brother and 7-year-old sister, that was the choice Autumn Adams made when she was just 19 years old. That devotion to her family earned the Central Washington University graduate the 2021 Casey Excellence for Children Kinship Award from Casey Family Programs.

“I do the work that I do, not for the attention or for the accolades,” Adams said. “I do it to make a change in a [foster-care] system that is severely broken.”

Growing up in Toppenish, on the Yakama Indian Reservation, Adams lived in foster care, poverty, and an environment of substance abuse. She sought legal guardianship of her sister, Kaya Tahmalwash, and brother, John Adams III, to keep her family together and maintain their cultural identity.

Adams also looked to help others in similar situations, including through her summer internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. The non-partisan, non-profit organization works to help Congress understand issues surrounding adoption, foster care, and child welfare. Adams served on a 12-member COVID-19 task force, where each member developed child welfare policy recommendations related to foster care and the pandemic.

“Mine focused on kinship care support and allowing a wider group of kinship caregivers to receive the same [federal] funding,” Adams explained.

Her proposal was one of two that were presented to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. The bureau works with federal, state, tribal, and local agencies to improve the overall health and well-being of the nation’s children and families. Based directly on Adams’s recommendations, the Children’s Bureau has already released federal guidelines and clarification on kinship caregiver funding.

Adams earned her CWU bachelor’s degree in anthropology and now works for Yakama Nation Cultural Resources. In 2019, she was named one of five Champions For Change by the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth. Adams plans to start law school next fall.

The Casey Excellence for Children Awards support improved safety and success of vulnerable children and their families. Adams’s kinship caregivers award was among those made in five categories, including birth parents, alumni of foster care, foster or adoptive parents, and community leaders.